Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Healing Power of Connection and Nature

Last nights workshop was amazingly informative - and I totally loved that it was offered IN NATURE.

Speaker Niki Buchan came all the way from Australia to share her passion on protecting children's right and developmental need to engage in risky outdoor play and backing it up with lots of research and evidence to how this type of play builds resilience and improves educational outcomes for children.

We were encouraged to come prepared for outdoors with sunglasses and sunhats or shade and despite the very warm weather to choose long pants and socks and walking shoes to help ward off the pesky mosquito bites!  
Niki started the evening by having us recollect in small groups about our favorite childhood memories.  

We exchanged stories about climbing up through hay lofts in family farms and leaping off the16 some feet into hay piles below, jumping off quarries into unsupervised lakes below, playing in the local gravel pit building community forts including little fires to cook food snuck from home on sticks and some of us had access to quick sand within the gravel pit and would play games tossing things into it to watch them sink and than the older children daring each other to step closer and closer and than pulling each other back before they sank too deep. 

For me, like most others sharing, our favorite memories from childhood shared the theme of being outside with friends in the neighborhood from dawn to dusk and with very little to NO adult supervision while we engaged in what today would make most parents toes curl with risky play themes.

We than were asked to share descriptive words for how we viewed our childhoods and words like full of freedom, active and on the go, messy, imaginative and carefree came to the forefront.

Very few of us remembered our classroom or school hours as our favorite memories - long term memories were created after the bell rang. Our  evenings and weekends were spent with friends outside in our neighborhoods engaged in collaborative play with children of all mixed ages for hours on end uninterrupted by adults! 

We than moved on to reflecting on how we would describe the childhood of our own children or children in our programs and WOW what an eye opening paradigm shift the current generation faces in their childhood! 

Terms like over scheduled, bubble wrapped, helicopter parenting, nature deprived and electronic zombies were the most common to describe today's children.

Childhood today is VERY structured not only during their classroom school hours but their evenings and weekends as well. Children spend far more time in front of electronics today than ever before - we have access to screens everywhere from the kitchen table, to the vehicle while we drive, in the classroom, in our bedrooms they are everywhere!

I love this quote from Lady Allen of Hurtwood "Better a Broken Bone than a Broken Spirit. A bone can be mended where a spirit may never be." and at the core of educators advocating for the importance of protecting play for children is this very sentiment.

Increasingly we are breaking the spirits of children with increasing 'rules and regulation's designed by well meaning bureaucrats to keep children 'safe' but in reality we are doing far more damage to their mental health than the risk they were in in the first place! 

So many the rules adults put in place that prevent children from exploring nature and engaging in risky play are ground in fear rather than any actually research or fact.

The two biggest fears tend to be injury with parents and litigation due to injury by educators.

Reality is that injury is a part of childhood and not matter how safe you try to keep children they can trip and fall over their own two feet and break a bone so banning climbing and jumping and swinging out of fear of a broken bone is not worth all they loose from those experiences when done in age appropriate manners with minimizing risks in mind.

Children learn how to SAFELY take risk by being allowed TO take risks! Risk taking teaches children how to hypothesis what will happen if I and than to plan their experiment of the risk and reflect on what went right or wrong including the minor injuries of childhood.

As adults we can help minimize risks by doing a benefit and risk assessment analysis of risky play activities we approve in our programs and can easily show stakeholdes that the benefits of what is being learned and gained from risky experience typically outweighs any REAL risk of injury from the activity. We can also so these in a smaller scale WITH CHILDREN to help them to navigate their risk assessment and create plans for safety.

Doing a proper benefit and risk assessment that shows your contingency plan for minimizing the risk can also alleviate the risk of litigation. Niki shared that while she was not sure the statistics in Canada that in the UK and Australia despite all the fear from administration and educators there has not be one successful lawsuit in regards to a child being injured while playing in a childcare or educational setting and they are the worlds leaders in risky play initiative. 

Children actually LIKE to be a little scared - to push themselves past fear. Watch a little baby playing peek-a-boo - when you go 'BOO' they get that startled fear response for a moment, than realize they are safe and than they laugh and will than 're-engage' in the peek a boo game! Preschoolers LOVE to read stories about scary themes and monsters and will pretend there is a ghost or bear other other beast hiding in their place spaces. 

With the mastery of a risk often comes laughter and more and more we RARELY hear children's laughter today and there is direct correlation with the lack of risk and laughter to the increase we see in anxiety and depression in children and at younger and younger ages. Professionals are treating clinical level anxiety in children as young as 18 months of age today which was unheard of 20 years ago. 

To help show the connection of how learning in nature she showed how you can read a book with children in nature and than encourage them with a 'I wonder if' question to send them collecting items from nature to create their own stick man. 

Using just a few simple tools of garden sheers and twine we were encouraged to create our own Stick men .... educators rose to the challenge getting creative. Some choose to use long grass to twine together and keep their creatures all natural.

Some used flowers to create hats or heads for their stick man.
Finished stick man from some fellow participants

My friend Kim showing off her Stick-man with his lovely quaff of hair!
Love how this educator found a leave that already had two holes for eyes and inspired her to use it as his face!
Admittedly I was so busy wanting to document everyone's work that my own stick man lacks imagination!

Before we left for the evening spent some time connecting with the water life around the little Westminster Ponds! 

It is so true that spending time in nature relaxes the mind and body, reduces stress and anxiety and improves health ... we were not even particularly ACTIVE in nature this evening but  I slept like a baby when I got home!

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